Neighborhood News Bureau

Neighborhood News Bureau Provides Real-Life Experience For Journalists

Many of my fellow classmates, including myself, are intimidated by one required course in the Journalism and Media Studies program – Neighborhood News Bureau.  After completing the course, some journalism students feel the same about NNB, and some students have a new outlook on the class.

Neighborhood News Bureau is a class dedicated to beat reporting.  The beat students cover at NNB is the Midtown area of St. Petersburg.  Midtown is a 5.5 square-mile area between Fourth Street South and 34th Street South and Second Avenue North to 30th Avenue South.  The demographic of this area is mostly African-American, with most residents living at or below the poverty level.

Map - Midtown St. Petersburg

Map – Midtown St. Petersburg

Located off the main USFSP campus, students report and write from the Neighborhood News Bureau at the James B. Sanderlin Family Service Center located at 2335 22nd Ave. S.

“Working as a reporter in Midtown was a good experience.  It helped me become familiar with an area of St. Pete I probably wouldn’t have ventured into on my own,” senior Meaghan Habuda said.

This is one of the main purposes of NNB – to get students out of their comfort zone.

Students can fall into a pattern of writing stories about topics that interest them, interview people that look like them, and report about communities that they live in or are familiar with.  In the professional world, these circumstances are hardly the reality for a journalist or reporter.

Students have to get out and “walk their beat,” meet and interview Midtown residents, identify sources, and delve into public records for stories about people, issues, and trends relevant to the area.

Personally, I had a fear of approaching members of the community – I felt that they wouldn’t be receptive to me.  I quickly found that I was wrong.  Every person I interviewed was courteous and open, willing to answer any question I had for them.  All of the people I had the chance to speak to were excited that their voice was heard and impressed that NNB was dedicated to the Midtown area.

Stories will be pitched to The Weekly Challenger, the Neighborhood Times and the Crow’s Nest.  Stories will also appear on the NNB website,

The Midtown neighborhood received local news coverage earlier this year when the Midtown Sweetbay closed its doors.  I decided to cover this story, and an interview with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster was necessary.  Politicians can be intimidating, and interviewing one was terrifying to me.  Just like before, I found that I had nothing to be afraid of, and it took NNB for me to realize this.  My story turned out great, and it was published in The Weekly Challenger.  I was finally a published journalist!

“It was one of the best hands-on experiences I’ve had in the entire program,” senior and journalism major Larry Pugliese said.  “We had to go out in the community and meet the people we were writing about, which made our writing better…it just made it real.”

Neighborhood News Bureau provides real-life experience for journalists, and the tools that are learned are vital to the journalist reporting professionally in the real world.

An education through experience

While finishing up with my internship at University Advancement on campus and working for The Crow’s Nest, I think I have learned more in one semester than I did the previous two years combined.

My first two years of college were filled with prerequisites and general education requirements. There weren’t many classes that actually held my interest for the entirety of a semester.

This year I finally started getting into classes pertaining to my major: mass communications and journalism. Yes, I learned AP style and interviewing and reporting skills in previous classes, but I actually got to put the things I learned into action.

Neighborhood News Bureau (NNB), a class required for a degree in mass communications, is a working newsroom set in the heart of Midtown in south St. Petersburg. In this class I learned what it takes to go out into a community and speak to strangers in order to get stories.

Stories from NNB are published on the bureau’s online magazine and sometimes sent to local publications like The Gabber in Gulfport or St. Pete Patch. I was fortunate to be one of those published outside the campus system while in this class.

In news editing, students learn everything there is to know about AP style and how to recognize mistakes in journalistic writing. In this class, I also got the chance to meet some famous people in the journalism world from the Poynter Institute and the Tampa Bay Times.

While working for The Crow’s Nest, I learned what it is like to run a newsroom. I learned the processes of story and photo selection, editing, and as the creative director I learned the layout process and basic design concepts.

A semester internship at University Advancement (formerly the Division of External Affairs) taught me public relations communication and networking. I learned about updating the USFSP website and keeping track of the social media outlets on campus.

During the course of the spring semester I wrote press releases, blogs and stories, and took and edited photos while creating connections with important people on campus.

I now have a body of published work.

An education from a classroom is essential, but I think it’s important to complement those skills in a setting that is outside the walls of a classroom. In journalism, like other majors, it’s essential to network and to get in contact with the right people. Putting a degree on a resume looks great, but experience and letters of recommendation are even better.



The future is closer than it appears

Credits required for a bachelor’s degree in mass communications: 124.

Credits accumulated: 104.

Credits needed: 20.

Just 20 more credit hours until I can walk across the stage and get my expensive piece of paper.

The point of going to school is to get an education, graduate and get a job. Since my second year of college I couldn’t wait to get out and start my career. But now that my college days are close to an end, the thought of not being in school and just working a full-time job scares me more than it should.

The end of this semester will be the end of experiences and the beginning of new ones. It has been a year since I started writing and working for The Crow’s Nest, USFSP’s student newspaper, and I will be applying for the editor-in-chief position for the fall.

The editor-in-chief position was a goal of mine since I first started writing for The Crow’s Nest. Right now, my future sort of hangs in the balance of whether I get the job or not.

If I get the job, I will dedicate myself to doing the best I can running the paper and will graduate in the spring of 2014. If I don’t get it, I will continue to be the creative director and help run the paper, but I will also be looking into graduating this December.

All these prospects for the next year of my life keep swimming around in my head and it gets to be overwhelming. I have to submit my application for the editor position and prepare myself for an interview in front of the media board, comprised of students and faculty from the journalism department.

On top of all that, there are also these questions: Do I look into graduate school? Where should I look? Do I start looking for a job? I found a great job prospect, but am I qualified enough for it? Do I put myself out there and apply anyway? Will I be able to work a full-time job and be a full-time student?

The spring semester is coming to a close and I am about to register for classes for summer and fall. Right now, I am hoping for the best and I am excited to see what the rest of my undergraduate days hold for me.


Graduate student creates documentary on the life and legacy of Nelson Poynter

Walter Gordon knew he faced a monumental task when he decided to create a video documentary of the late Nelson Poynter as his Master’s in Liberal Arts project.

Walt Gordon

Walt Gordon

Poynter was a giant in the newspaper industry and a tireless champion of USF St. Petersburg. When he died in 1978, he left behind a 44-foot stack of papers, documents and filmed interviews. They are housed in Special Collections at the USF St. Petersburg library that bears his name.

The Nelson Poynter Memorial Library collection had only occasional interest by researchers until Gordon decided to dig in.

Gordon, a fall 2012 graduate, spent all last summer poring through the collection. The result is a 30-minute documentary about the man who turned the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) into one of the most distinguished newspapers in the country.

“I could have made an hours-long documentary on Poynter,” Gordon said. “He had such an interesting life.”

Born in Indiana on Dec. 5, 1903, Poynter knew at an early age that journalism would be his life-long career. His father bought the St. Petersburg Times in 1912 and Poynter wrote his first story for the Times in 1914. In 1938 he became the general manager of the Times. Before that he was the editor and publisher of the Clearwater Sun and the Kokomo (Ind.) Dispatch . Poynter later acquired the St. Petersburg Evening Independent, which folded in 1986, and founded Congressional Quarterly, an influential legislative news service.

He is perhaps best known for leaving the ownership of the Times to the non-profit Modern Media Institute, now the Poynter Institute, to ensure its independence. The Institute is located across the street from USF St. Petersburg.

Poynter died hours after participating in a groundbreaking at USF St. Petersburg on June 15, 1978, during which he was honored for his efforts to establish it.

James Schnur, Associate Librarian in Special Collections and Archives at the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library, suggested the Poynter documents as a subject of Gordon’s project. Schnur, who first met Gordon while teaching Florida history at Eckerd College, assisted in the documentary process.

As a librarian and graduate of USF St. Petersburg, Schnur understood the impact Poynter had on the development of the university and downtown St. Petersburg. Schnur says Gordon’s documentary is a great way for community members to understand Poynter’s significance.

“He brought Poynter in to the community,” Schnur says.

Making a documentary came naturally to Gordon, who taught TV production at Countryside High School and earned a Bachelor’s degree in history from Eckerd College.

The Poynter Papers include interviews from the 1970s and 1980s that were recorded on film and transferred to video tapes. Because of his experience with TV and film production, Gordon was able to transfer the VHS tapes into digital files in order to make the 35-minute documentary.

Gordon is a staunch advocate for combining the latest technology with other disciplines like the arts and sciences in order to expand educational capabilities.

The documents and videos along with Gordon’s annotations will be available to scholars, researchers, and students interested in learning more about Poynter and St. Petersburg history.

“Altogether, the collection constitutes an amazing amount of data that could still benefit from more research.” Gordon said.

Gordon continues to teach TV production at Countryside High School. He presented his documentary at Heritage Village for its “Speaking of History” lecture series in November. Gordon also presented a 20-minute version of the documentary at USFSP for the 65th Annual Meeting of the Southeast Philosophy of Education Society Feb. 1-2.